Samsung heir denies charges in first hearing

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Samsung heir denies charges in first hearing

Samsung Group heir Lee Jae-yong denied bribery and other criminal charges filed by an independent counsel in the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye at his first court hearing in Seoul on Thursday.

The vice chairman of Samsung Electronics claimed innocence through his lawyers at the hearing held at the Seoul Central District Court.

Lee did not show up at the hearing, as the inaugural session mostly dealt with trial proceedings and other procedural issues.

Lee was indicted Tuesday on a string of charges, including bribery and embezzlement. He has been in custody since last month.

The special probe team suspects that Lee gave or promised 43.3 billion won ($38.3 million) in kickbacks to Park’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, in return for the government’s backing of a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015.

The business merger was seen as critical to the smooth management succession of the group from ailing Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee to his only son Jae-yong.

The independent counsel viewed Samsung’s donation of 20.4 billion won in 2015 to two sports and culture foundations controlled by Choi as bribes.

Lee has consistently insisted that Samsung’s donations to the Mi-R and K-Sports foundations were made customarily in compliance with government requests, while its financial support for Choi and her family was forced by the presidential office.

His lawyers repeated the same claims of innocence throughout the opening hearing.

The lawyers said Lee’s instructions to group executives following his one-on-one meetings in 2015 and 2016 with Park remained unclear. They urged the independent counsel from resorting to presumptions in handling Lee’s case.

Lee’s lawyers also raised questions over the participation of former prosecutor members of the independent counsel team in the court hearing, saying the mandate of the independent counsel already expired at the end of last month.

The first hearing was finished after one hour amid fierce confrontation between lawyers and prosecutors. The Seoul district court is expected to give its ruling in late May.

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